Simile and Figurative Language

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[This article challenges the status of simile in some central contributions to the canonical tradition of metaphor theory, including those of Paul Henle, Winifred Nowottny, and Max Black. It claims that a trajectory leading to the defiguration of simile characterizes these theoretical interventions, since the privileging of metaphor as the "figure of figures, the figure for figurality" (Culler 1981: 189) is best served by the literalization of simile. I explore the manner in which simile is defigured through its subordination to theories of metaphor, as well as the critical and theoretical consequences of this process of defiguration for both metaphor and simile. Of central importance is the dynamic whereby the prima facie structural difference between metaphor and simile (the absence of connectives of similitude in the former, their presence in the latter) is made to bear the burden of simile's literality. The connective becomes the literal surplus which apparently devalues simile, according to the view that permeates modern rhetoric. A revisionist reading of the connective, anchored in an alternative theorization of the figurality of simile, is presented here. In addition, a sample corpus of figurative similes-in my reading-is analyzed in support of this alternative.]
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)203-240
Number of pages38
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996


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